It was in September 2014, a month before our landing in Canada, when a fellow, Pakistani-born Canadian made a long-distance call to my husband suggesting that we carry a baptism certificate from a Roman Catholic Church as a way to secure school admissions for our children in what was to soon become our new country.
My husband, however, didn’t see the point. The friend was insistent, and so my husband asked me for my views.
I was similarly adamantly against asking a church to fabricate a baptism certificate just so that my kids could enrol in a Canadian school.
Little did we know that fabricating fake certificates for the sake of our children’s education – one where the Bible is taught alongside an academic curriculum – was quite common, according to our friends.
I was confident that once we arrived in Canada, our honesty would be applauded. After all, it is true that I am a Christian by faith and my children were already studying in Catholic schools in our homeland of Pakistan.
I found this rather puzzling. Before arrival, I was confident that once we arrived in Canada, our honesty would be applauded. After all, it is true that I am a Christian by faith and my children were already studying in Catholic schools in our homeland of Pakistan.
I was looking forward to landing in what I believed to be a ‘Christian country’. This assumption kept my hopes alive.
Canada: Not what I was expecting
To my astonishment, the reality was different.
With growing hopes, praying hearts and determination, we went school hunting one week after landing. We found a Catholic school close to our home.
As we approached the school entrance, we noticed that an elderly woman was struggling with things she had carried out of her car. Some of them fell to the ground. I rushed to help her and both of us entered the school together.
She was very thankful and introduced us to the school receptionist as “a lovely Christian family that is looking for admission of their children.”
It was then that we discovered that she happens to be the school principal. She specifically instructed the receptionist to be of help to us.
I handed over our baptism certificates and the receptionist asked us to wait.
She consulted somebody by phone, and then turned to us, saying that our children could not get admission to this particular school because the church that had issued our certificates did not fall under the umbrella of the “Catholic (school) board”.
As a Christian couple coming to a Christian country we could not arrange for faith-based education for our children, only because we were not Catholics.
Crestfallen, we asked what else we might do. She suggested that we attend Mass and meet the Father there.
We went to the Catholic Church on Saturday. We shared with him that both our children had been studying in Catholic schools in Pakistan, but he was not swayed.
He suggested that we become “Catholic” and only then could he recommend admission.
All my hopes of being rewarded for our honesty and for not securing a fake baptism certificate were badly shattered.
As a Christian couple coming to a Christian country we could not arrange for faith-based education for our children, only because we were not Catholics. Unfortunately, the system had drawn a clear line of demarcation between Catholics and other Christians, as if they are not Christians at all.
Erasing Christianity in a Christian country
There were other bitter realities waiting to be revealed.
When I shared this story with other Christian couples, many of them openly admitted that they had used fake baptism certificates from their homelands just to get their children admitted in Catholic schools.
It dawned on me that not only are Catholic schools refusing admissions to children of Christians, but they are also encouraging fake documents, deceit and cheating.
I had no other option but to get my kids admitted to a public school.
I’ve found the public schools, while academically sound, religiously pathetic. It was shocking for me that Christianity has been erased from this Christian country. There is no Bible reading in public schools, as I’m told it used to be in the past.
Instead, the day starts with a couple of riddles and jokes along with the national anthem. Ironically, while acknowledging in “O Canada” that only God can “keep our land glorious and free,” Canadians have removed God and the Bible from schools.
I have realized that although I come from a Muslim country originally and have migrated to Canada, a Christian country, raising my children in line with religious values was far easier back in my homeland than in Canada.
I am obviously not in favour of imposing Christianity on others, especially in a multicultural society. But, ignoring the divine and abandoning the practice of reading the Bible, will lead us nowhere. We can see the outcomes of such practices across the border.
After 10 months of our stay in Canada, I have realized that although I come from a Muslim country originally and have migrated to Canada, a Christian country, raising my children in line with religious values was far easier back in my homeland than in Canada.
Students who graduate from schools know nothing about Christian values and practices; as a result they indulge in drugs, sex and other forms of anti-social behaviour at a young age.
Diversity is the beauty of Canada and there are ways in which a Christian country can acknowledge the differences of faith, culture, race and colour, without erasing its own religious heritage.
I have observed celebrations of Halloween, Diwali and Eid in Canada. These religious and social festivals are celebrated with enthusiasm. While these festivals are celebrated with their original names, the festival of Christmas is not. Now, it is considered appropriate to wish people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.
I know many non-Christian friends and colleagues who cherish the memories of studying in Christian institutions.
Those institutions never imposed Christianity on the students, yet I have often heard non-Christians quoting Biblical verses as they appreciate the truth in them and tell me that they remember these verses from their early childhood years in school.
Dilnawaz Qamar is a psychologist and taught psychology for last six years at Forman Christian College University, Pakistan. While in Pakistan, she was a frequent contributor to Daily Times, a local newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.